An Estimated 140,000 Long-term Care Patients Have Died from COVID. Who is Accountable?

By:

Dave Kingsley

There Must be a Reckoning: Elderly and Disabled Citizens of America Need to Hear the Voices of Nursing Home Advocates

The long-term care industry and agencies charged with regulating owners of skilled nursing facilities have failed the elderly and disabled people of America. Medically fragile citizens were contained within the walls of poorly designed and managed institutions. Consequently, helpless patients were sitting ducks as a novel, deadly, and highly contagious virus swept through what should have been safe places. Perhaps more than 140,000 or more patients have died, and their families have endured untold suffering.  It should have been obvious to everyone that most so called “nursing homes,” under even the best of management circumstances, are conducive to spreading highly contagious diseases.

We do not need to revisit the issue of infectious disease management in these places.  We know that providers and their corporate owners and investors disregarded sensible and reasonable prevention efforts while they continued to pocket money from Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement.  We can noodle over the need for PPE and infectious disease protocols from now to eternity, but without accountability for the preventable death of so many, the elderly and disabled will be in extreme danger in the immediate future. 

Providers paid to care for medically fragile people failed to carry out their duties and no one made them do it. Any wankery about tweaking this god-awful system is nothing more than a distraction from reality – an effort to move on and bury the past. We must not let that happen.  We must demand that an investigative commission be set up to compile evidence and put the blame where it belongs.

The Phony CMS/Mitre Commission Was a Whitewash:  We Need an Honest Investigative Commission

Eloquent voices were warning us about Donald Trump for years before he lied to the public about the true nature of the COVID pandemic.  Masha Gessen, Anne Applebaum, Timothy Snyder, and others were explaining how populist fascist leaders on the rise across the globe were dangerous – how they used typical Goebbels-like tactics to manipulate the public.  As Gessen said in Surviving Autocracy: “Trump did not run for president, he ran for autocrat.” 

Who could not, through commonsense, see what these scholars – experts on autocratic movements – had been saying when less than a year ago the Trump controlled CMS called for volunteers to serve on a commission pertaining to COVID in nursing homes?  Who really believed that an obviously deranged demagogue would allow anything to come out of a commission that would be even slightly critical of him or agencies under his control? I was intensely critical and skeptical of this commission – outsourced to a private, for profit corporation – and expressed my belief when it was announced that it would be used for propaganda purposes but change nothing.

And, indeed, that is what happened. We got a whitewash endorsed by leading advocates. So, patients in understaffed, incompetently managed facilities continued to be victims of COVID and the system with responsibility for protecting them from it. Upon the release of the commission report, Seema Verma issued a press release in which she claimed the commission validated the great job carried out by the Trump Administration. So, elderly and disabled patients continue to die and suffer, and their families continue to endure the pain of seeing what is happening to their loved ones. The commission and its report provided cover for the industry and the Trump Administration to continue business as usual.

The media continues its reporting on this or that facility with this or that number of deaths.  Mark Parkinson – former governor of Kansas and head lobbyist for nursing homes – is given face time on CNN to propagandize on behalf of the industry without enduring any criticism whatsoever. Parkinson’s powerful and well-funded trade association – the America Health Care Association – will continue to spin on behalf of its corporate members.

The massive death toll in the long term care system was preventable.  Why and how it was preventable is the story that needs to be told by a distinguished commission with the mission of telling the truth.  There must be a reckoning. it is the moral and ethical duty of professionals holding themselves out as advocates and their organizations to demand that reckoning.  If we do not have accountability for the preventable COVID tragedy in the so-called “nursing home system,” then nothing will prevent owners and investors from further devaluing the lives of elders and disabled people in their care.

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